While I understand the need to continually improve and extend infrastructure that's strained to its limits, the latest Federal highway spending bill of 286.4 billion dollars seems like good money chasing after bad. What the heck could cost so much?
Today's Wall Street Journal indicates that there is indeed a lot of pork in this latest bill, despite what I'm looking for is relief of the massive traffic problems between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. I drive through there to go to work, and it's miserable because so many people who used to live in Portland have escaped to the tax-friendlier city across the Columbia.
I live north of Vancouver and work west of Portland. The bridge is the choke point. I spent two hours driving 38 miles last home last night. The commute home has been getting progressively worse.
As a result I have been investing in working from home. While that's pretty much impossible for a manager, my latest duties at IBM make it a reality. I have a T1 going in, since I can't get DSL or broadband cable out where I'm at, I just got a PolyCom Soundstation2, which I call the “Klingon War Phone” but is really just the absolute best speakerphone you can have for frequent meetings. When the T1 goes live, I'll be using Vonage to handle my calling around instead of my local POTS (plain old telephone service).
Include in this package is that I no longer have to send 9% of my income to Oregon (a state which seems to be rapidly imploding). On the radio last night they indicated that several thousand people had moved from Portland to Vancouver in the past year, primarily because of its local income tax, on top of Oregon's. Portland is now the third most expensive United States town to live in.
What's my point? I wonder if the government should instead be looking at how to juice the services that are making it easier for people to work from home, or from anywhere, rather than investing so much in what could be yesterday's technology. Clearly the pork virus has infested this latest bill, and the President does not appear to have been holding this Congress to any kind of spending limitations.
I'm tired of traffic and low choice about working in tax hells. Enable me to work from anywhere (in this country, that is, it's easy to work here from India already, thanks) and we can reduce congestion and pollution, thank you very much.
Are the confirmation hearings of Judge John Roberts going to center on the Commerce Clause and not on abortion and gun control like most people expect? In an editorial in this morning's Wall Street Journal it is deftly pointed out that in Rancho Viejo v. Gale Norton the circuit court judge wrote the ruling:
The panel's approach in this case leads to the result that regulating the taking of a hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California constitutes regulating “Commerce… among the several States.” U.S. Const. art.
The WSJ editorial opines:
This implies a less expansive view of the Commerce Clause than the current Supreme Court majority, and suggests he would have joined the four dissenters in Raich, the Supreme Court's recent decision to let the federal government overrule state laws on regulating medical marijuana.
What's all the stink about? The Commerce Clause is more technically known as Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution. Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress, and Clause 3 reads thus:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
This particular clause, like the emergency provisions in Washington law I've mentioned before, has been particularly abused in order to justify the weirdest largesses of the Federal government. The Raich case mentioned above ruled that a person growing marijuana for themselves in their back yard was somehow interstate commerce because marijuana could be sold across state lines.
If that strikes you as a little odd, you're not alone. I'm hoping that Roberts is a little more rational on the Commerce Clause and that particular rationality will lead to some better rulings on control control, abortion, emminent domain, environmental protection, telecommunications, and so on.
Columbus, Ohio recently voted to ban the ownership of semi-automatic firearms in its city limits. That doesn't seem like a good idea. It has prompted the National Rifle Associate to cancel a planned member's meeting in that city in 2007 (NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre):
The NRA is not coming to Columbus in 2007. The convention is cancelled because last week your City Council unanimously voted to revoke the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens in Columbus by banning perfectly legal firearms.
The NRA press release goes on to point out that NRA members and convention business would have brought twenty million dollars of revenue to the Columbus area.
I should include the obvious comment that policy decisions like the city council's don't make citizens any more or less safe, so I wonder what they did hope to accomplish other than a political stink.
Naeem Noor Khan's laptop has cropped up again, this time in relation to the London subway/bus bombings.
The laptop computer of Naeem Noor Khan, a captured al Qaeda leader, contained plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system, as well as on financial buildings in both New York and Washington.
So, based on those plans, the British arrested a bunch of troublemakers in Luton, but apparently missed the new growing cell of the four men involved in the bombings, as well as their supplier. Naeem Noor Khan was the original mastermind.
“There's absolutely no doubt he was part of an al Qaeda operation aimed at not only the United States but Great Britain,” explained Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry who is now a senior terrorism consultant for ABC News.
But chasing down the lead only cut off the head of the hydra.
“It is very likely this group was activated last year after the other group was arrested,” Debat said.
Khan was our double agent inside Al Qaeda that was outed to the New York Times by Pakistani intelligence. Last August I wondered if the New York Times would realize its error in burning such a source. After all, that was a billion times worse than revealing the identity of a CIA desk jockey that sends her husband on politically-motivated trips to subvert the restabilization of the middle east…
Brings a new definition to the term “Roving Reporter.”
Update: I'm adding this to the Beltway Traffic Jam.
7/7 joins 9/11 and 3/11 in the list of infamous attacks targeting innocent civilians.
The EU parliament overwhelmingly rejected a sweeping software patent law by 648 against, 14 for and 18 abstentions. It is unlikely that a new attempt will be made for some time.
The bill had been loaded down with 170 amendments intended to limit what could be patented, producing an unlikely coalition of both open source and patent advocates. Many hope that this outcome will curtail the current practice of seeking patents on software (from the Wall Street Journal):
The Greens who led the opposition said they hoped the European patent offices would now take a more restrictive view on patenting software. “MEPs have given the software patents directive a third class burial,” said Eva Lichtenberger, an Austrian parliamentarian who led the party's effort on the bill. Patent officenrs “must halt its current practice of granting patents for software, a practice which there is no legal basis.” They “must think now about creating policies that benefit not only big business.”
Supporters of the bill hope that this backlash will be avoided. “As I've always said it is better to have no directive than to have a bad directive,” said Sharon Bowles, Liberal Democrat and a patent attorney.
I am a little torn on this issue. On one side I do think that software inventors deserve a little reward for their hard work, and copyright doesn't seem to be enough. On the other side, I know that little companies can be ruined by getting hauled into patent courts, even if they have all the merits on their side. There has to be an easier way.
I went to see War of the Worlds yesterday full of lowered expectations primed by a variety of negative reviews I had already seen around the Internet. Luckily lowering my expectations led to an enjoyable experience at the theater.
I have read the novel by H. G. Wells, and I have seen the original movie from the 50's, both of which have their own tone. I never heard the famous radio drama, however, so I have missed out on some of the history of this story. While most people should be familiar with the premise, I'll try not to ruin the ending anyway.
The story is based on the idea that distant aliens have watched Earth from afar and plotted its demise from long ago. This particular telling of the invasion is more faithful to the book than the old movie, even keeping the three legged tripods from the novel. (I suspect Wells, like the later L. Neil Smith, want aliens that were, well, alien, not exhibiting the same bilateral symmetry of most species on Earth.)
The movie is quite creepy and horrifying, as the novel and the radio show were intended to be. When our gaggle of friends was discussing the movie afterward, Independence Day was brought up. Of course, the ending of that movie was intensely unsatisfying to me. This movie handled the ending far better, although some aspects were weak. I get the feeling that Spielberg hates endings, as I have been unhappy with the last act of many of his movies. However, the opening and ending narrations (by Morgan Freeman) directly quoting the novel were excellent bookends to the story in between.
As corny as Tom Cruise has been in public, he made a solid performance in this movie. He was a solid realistic anchor. In fact, most of the special effects in this movie were no so much spectacular as realistic. It is the realism of the entire thing that makes it so creepy. It's as though this could happen, if you can suspend reality enough around the items that are far-fetched.
After all, burying death machines on a planet such as ours before the dawn of recorded history is a very long-term plan. However, I can buy that. Crossing space with people is a lot more tricky affair than sending hardware. Ship the hardware first and the people afterward. One could even wonder if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was really the delivery of underground death machines all over the planet. Robert Ebert had difficulty with this point, I can let it pass.
Spielberg had to modernize certain aspects of the novel to make it pass for modern day. We can accept that. There is very little in the modern world that is common with the world of 1898. At least Spielberg does not set those two worlds at war as well. In doing so, Spielberg also had to change the story to make it more emotionally compelling. The characters so added did not take anything away from the novel's undercurrent. Survive! Do what is necessary! Wonder at your luck!
There is less of the sense of wonder in this movie as there was in, say, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T., as these aliens are most definitely a threat. But you can feel it when people want to know what's going on, or they crowd around a hole in the street where lightning struck tens of times. Random quotes from the crowd also underscore the “we have no idea what is going on” aspect. Spielberg is trying to tell a human story with an alien backdrop. The point is the relationship between a father and his two children, not the invasion from another planet. That sets this movie apart from the B-movies of the 50's or Independence Day.
As I said at the beginning, I ended up liking the movie and I expected not to. I don't know if will work as well as a DVD in the hyper-distracted household. You have to sit there and experience it. A lot of movies lose their impact in the home.